Dr. Welford, who also is professor and Biology Division chief in radiation oncology at Sylvester, will lead the cancer center’s Tumor Biology Research Program with Wael El-Rifai, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of basic science at Sylvester and John and Judy Schulte Senior Endowed Chair in Cancer Research.
A skilled researcher, mentor, and communicator, Dr. Welford is an ideal fit for the program, which among other goals aims to foster collaborative and synergistic relationships with Sylvester members and investigators across the Miller School and the University, according to Dr. El-Rifai.
“Dr. Welford works closely with both basic science and clinical investigators to understand the biology of cancer and develop new therapies that will lead to better clinical outcomes. His excellence in translational research is founded on strong basic science discoveries,” Dr. El-Rifai said.
“Dr. Welford has a strong focus on collaborative research and is an excellent mentor, who is thoughtful and supports the development and maturation of novel ideas,” he said. “In fact, Dr. Welford was nominated and honored with the 2022 Outstanding Mentor of the Year award for his mentoring of junior faculty at Sylvester.”
A cancer biologist by training, Dr. Welford completed a post-doctoral fellowship in radiation oncology at Stanford University and started a career as a cancer center faculty member about 15 years ago at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, where he said he gravitated toward translational cancer biology.
“My move to Sylvester’s clinical department of radiation oncology in 2017 gave me a great advantage as a cancer biologist to interact with clinicians and get clinical samples,” Dr. Welford said. “The challenge in basic research has always been to bridge the divide between what we do in the lab and what they do in the clinic. Sylvester has given us the chance to bridge that gap, and I’ve had great relationships with many clinicians in the department and my chair, of course, that have allowed us to further our basic tumor biology research.”
“Dr. Welford’s new role as a co-leader of the Tumor Biology Research Program allows him to continue to focus on relationship building to further cancer research — not only from the perspective of his lab, which studies hypoxia and radiobiology, but rather for the whole program and ultimately for the cancer center,” said Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., director of Sylvester, holder of the Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research, and executive dean for research at the Miller School. “The position is well earned as we believe deeply in his talent and leadership skills.”
Sylvester’s Tumor Biology Research Program is one of four highly collaborative, multidisciplinary research programs at Sylvester organized by scientific themes, which stem from the cancer center’s strengths and priorities, as well as prevalent malignancies within South Florida's culturally diverse population.
The program focuses on cellular interactions of tumors. This includes defining and understanding mechanisms underlying tumor initiation and progression; determining how inflammation and immunity influence tumorigenesis and the tumor microenvironment; and identifying and validating biological and molecular-based therapeutic approaches to cancer.
“The overall goal of the Tumor Biology Research Program is to be interactive and inclusive. When designating a cancer center, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) looks at your institution and says, ‘Okay, you’ve got great researchers — now how do they work together to effectively synergize and raise the level of the overall research that’s being done?’” Dr. Welford said. “As an NCI-designated cancer center, we have made it our goal to understand what our strengths are and to put people together to lead us to new interactive programs, grants, and projects that will make impactful discoveries in the field.”